Switzerland & Midwest Connections: Adolph Scherrer on Time and under Budget

Welcome to the History Blog featuring the connections between Switzerland and the Midwest. I am Joerg Oberschmied, Deputy Consul General in. Chicago. My interest in history started at an early age and continues to this day. The views expressed are solely mine and I hope you enjoy these journeys through time.

In 1816 Indiana became the 19th state to join the Union. The capital city was Corydon, which served in that capacity for the Indiana Territory since 1813. In 1825 the seat of government was moved to Indianapolis, where a small state house was built in 1831 but was condemned in 1876. Leading local architect Edwin May was commissioned to design the new state capitol in 1880.

In the Right Place at the Right Time

Adolph Scherrer was an innovative architect as well as a prolific one. Born in St. Gallen in 1847, he studied in Vienna and Budapest before arriving in Indianapolis in 1873. There he accepted a position as a draftsman with leading local architect Edwin May. May died before the plan to build the Capitol was completed and Scherrer took over the design, making several changes in the process. Built in the classical Corinthian style, Scherrer used as many native Indiana materials as possible. The exterior is primarily faced with Indiana limestone, and is crowned with a large dome. At the time of its construction, the State House was the second tallest building in the state, with the pinnacle of the dome reaching an impressive 256 feet high. Laid out in the shape of a cross, a large central rotunda connects the four wings of the building, and organizes the space. The rotunda is topped with the magnificent dome, soaring 250 feet above the floor. On the exterior, the dome is golden- painted. The ceiling on the interior contains large blue stained glass windows.

On Time and under Budget

Originally, $2 million was approved for the project, but Adolph Scherrer not only finished on time, he was able to complete the project for just $1.8 million ($47 million in today’s money). The remainder of the money was returned to the general fund. Scherrer designed many late-19th-century public edifices in Indianapolis. Included among them are the Gothic, spired arches at the 34th Street and Boulevard Place entrance to Crown Hill cemetery (1885); the Pathology Department (now the Old Pathology Building, 1896) at Central State Hospital, as well as many additions to the hospital; the Männerchor Building (since demolished), erected for instruction about and appreciation of the great German composers (1906); and the Independent Turnverein Building at 902 North Meridian (1913), which later were adapted for use as upscale apartments. Six years before his death, Adolph Scherrer experienced a serious stroke, which caused some paralysis and effectively ended his career. His sons, Anton and Herman, also became well-known Indianapolis architects, working first in collaboration with their father and, after his death in 1925, on their own under the name Adolph Scherrer and Sons.
When Mayor Tom Sullivan appointed Adolph Scherrer to the first Indianapolis Board of Public Works in 1891, the local Sentinel Newspaper wrote: «He is not a politician, never has been and never will be, but he knows all about public improvements. His fidelity, capability and honesty are proverbial and his appointment will be a great benefit to Indianapolis.”
Today the Indiana Statehouse Tour Office greets over 60,000 guests per year. The building still houses all three branches of state government. The Indiana State Capitol is located at 200 West Washington Street in Indianapolis (see also www.in.gov/idoa/statehouse).

The Indiana State Capitol (Photo by the Author)
Image of Adolph Scherrer from the Indianapolis Sentinel (ca. 1891)
The Indiana State Capitol from above (Photo by the Author)